The plastic surgeon for whom I worked just short of two years really started something when he commanded me to “write it down.” I did and I have never stopped. I found in a drawer (he was always being given things he didn’t use) a black leather gilt edged holder of plain postcards. I asked if I might use it. “Have it” he said. I kept it supplied with plain postcards which meant that no list could exceed both sides of the upper card if it was going to be efficient. When the holder aged, I went on to try various kinds of notebooks, differing sizes and papers, discovering that I didn’t like lined paper so went on to a Filofax which contained diary, addresses and spare plain paper which again I updated as I went. It is useless to try and explain the pleasure you get from stationery if you are not a person it pleases. If you like notebooks, then you want the one you want – and nothing else will do. For years, I didn’t carry anything without a spiral wire up the back so I could tear sheets out of it. Occasionally I try a book I’ve been given and it doesn’t work. Or I find a book for somebody else with the same kind of stationery mania that does work.
I have spent pleasant time checking out the shelves of old fashioned stationery stores and I miss my favourite. I tried to strike a compromise with myself by buying a notebook with a spiral and lined paper rather than a plain paper notebook of uncured kraft – like paper mais – but without the spiral. The brown paper notebook won. I don’t like lined paper for daily use – shopping lists, notes to myself, the constantly updated book and film list.
But the other day there was a thud on the mat which was not the biweekly supply of coffee my son has arranged. This envelope was marked “from the New York Review of Books”, which I have read since I was 19, regularly when I lived in New York and whenever I could ever since, till Dilly (daughter in law) arranged it as a munificent Christmas present for me. I am not sure why I first bought it – probably because it has “books” in the title and asked to sum it up, I’d say it’s about ideas. Occasionally it can be pompous and abstruse but most of the time it widens my horizons and makes me think. The package contained a small red leather bound notebook with NYRB down the side. Lined paper. That makes three red notebooks I won’t use but I can’t part with.
One is covered in crimson lacquer, plain paper and though it’s a bit large and heavy for daily use, it contains a very pretty dedication – my name at the top of the page with a star, the giver’s name at the opposite side at the bottom and one line linking the star to her name. That seems to say everything, I couldn’t part with it.
Another came from a luxury goods shop which I used to go to for the sheer pleasure of looking at things. I took Wal there and we were talking when a slight pale blonde woman arrived from behind a rack of clothes and identified me by voice (I was still working in those days). We shook hands and she said how she had enjoyed what I did, so of course I thanked her again but when we left the shop, she was waiting for me with a small package. “For you” she said, “for your addresses.” “Oh, but –“ I said. “You must take it” she insisted. ”You comforted me .” Which is how I come to have a rather exclusive red leather address book – and I can still hear her voice.
You remember the three wise monkeys – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil ? I think my three red notebooks are in the same domain. When I looked up the symbolism of red, it runs to 14 pages.